When couples go for marriage counseling, it’s easy to get sucked into the presenting issues which are merely the symptoms of the real issues. What this often looks like is the perpetrator of emotional abuse pointing out the victim’s reactions to the abuse as the problem, deflecting the focus away from his behavior. Sharmen talks about how focusing on the surface problems detract from the real danger at hand: the underlying emotional abuse in the marriage.
The Underlying Emotional Abuse in the Marriage
Marriage is a complex and delicate institution, often marred by conflicts and misunderstandings. When couples find themselves at a crossroads, seeking the guidance of counselors or coaches can be the crucial step to restore harmony and love in their relationship. However, it is essential to address the root issues within a marriage, especially when emotional abuse is lurking beneath the surface. This article delves into the often-missed emotional abuse in marriages, its devastating consequences, and how counselors and coaches can make a significant impact on healing these wounded relationships.
The Unseen Struggles
In many cases, it is the wife who takes the initiative to seek counseling for the troubled marriage. She is typically the one who feels distraught enough to recognize the problems and is desperately seeking help to make the relationship better. Her husband, on the other hand, may not share the same level of concern. He might insist that they can resolve their issues without counseling or may be content with the status quo. This fundamental dynamic of one partner seeking help and the other resisting sets the stage for a myriad of problems.
Shifting the Blame
What often happens in these scenarios is that the focus of counseling shifts towards the wife changing her behavior. This shift is driven by the perception that she is the one acting badly due to her reactions to her husband’s abuse. The husband, in an attempt to downplay his actions, might minimize, rationalize, or dismiss her feelings. This is essentially blaming the victim, as the wife is the one seeking change to restore normalcy to the relationship, even if “normal” is deeply flawed.
Recognizing the Root of the Issue
One crucial aspect that often goes unnoticed is that the initial point of contact with most couples seeking counseling is usually engulfed in the current situation. This current situation, however, is merely the byproduct of years of dysfunction and emotional abuse. The wife has reached a breaking point where she can no longer bear the consequences of her husband’s harmful behavior alone. She is the one who is hurting, devastated by the loss of connection, and the gradual erosion of her sense of self.
Love for her no longer means merely keeping the peace when there is no peace. The resistance to abuse, which may seem like her acting out, becomes the focal point instead of addressing the root cause – the emotional abuse itself. When the focus is on changing her resistance without addressing the instigating abuse, the result is an unfortunate cycle of blame without real resolution.
The Endless Cycle
Focusing on changing her reaction to abuse without addressing the abuse itself achieves little. In fact, it perpetuates the pattern of emotional abuse, leading to a deteriorating relationship. The wife leaves counseling even more discouraged and isolated, feeling unheard, while the husband remains unaccountable for his actions. This toxic cycle often stretches over the years, sometimes even decades, causing untold pain to both partners. In some cases, it leads to the eventual demise of the marriage.
A Call for Change
The good news is that this pattern can change. Counselors, pastors, and coaches have an incredible opportunity to be the heroes that families in crisis desperately need. They can step in as the first responders to emotional abuse and truly address the harm that plagues the marriage.
Recognizing the Signs
The first step to being a hero is awareness. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of long-term emotional abuse is crucial. Emotional abuse can take various forms, such as belittling, controlling behavior, isolation, and threats. It is not always overt, making it essential to have a keen eye for subtle signs that often go unnoticed.
Providing the Right Help
Addressing the presenting issues in a marriage is a vital part of the solution. However, if counselors or coaches stop there, they are merely putting a band-aid on a wound that requires surgical intervention. The true transformation begins when emotional abuse is acknowledged, confronted, and addressed.
The Silent Suffering Webinar
For those in the role of counselors, pastors, or coaches, the “Silent Suffering” webinar offers the tools and resources needed to recognize the signs and symptoms of emotional abuse. This knowledge can help bring true healing to a relationship that is slowly dying. By understanding the depth of emotional abuse and offering the necessary support, you can make a real difference in the lives of the couples you work with.
Marriage is a complex and often challenging journey, but emotional abuse should have no place in it. As counselors, pastors, and coaches, your role is pivotal in identifying and addressing the underlying emotional abuse that can devastate a marriage. By recognizing the signs, providing the right help, and attending webinars like “Silent Suffering,” you can be the hero these families desperately need. It’s time to put an end to the blame game, confront emotional abuse, and pave the way for healing and growth in struggling relationships.
Also read: How to Improve Communication in Marriage
About Dr. Hawkins:
The internet is inundated with hyperbole and misinformation about narcissism, leaving many people confused and hopeless. Get the facts on narcissism and emotional abuse from someone who has been researching, writing about and treating narcissism and emotional abuse for over a decade.
Dr. Hawkins is a best-selling author and clinical psychologist with over three decades of experience helping people break unhealthy patterns and build healthier relationships.
He is the founder and director of the Marriage Recovery Center and the Emotional Abuse Institute which offers education, training and counseling for people who want to break free of, and heal from, emotional abuse. Whether the perpetrator of the abuse is your spouse, partner, parent, boss, friend or family member, we offer practical advice for anyone trapped in a toxic, destructive relationship.
In addition to narcissism & emotional abuse, you’ll learn about the lesser known forms of abuse, including covert abuse, reactive abuse, spiritual abuse, secondary abuse, relationship trauma and much more.